|View East from Glacier Pass|
Date: August 2, 2016
Place: Mineral King, Sequoia National Park
Coordinates (of Monarch Lake Campsite): 36.453675, -118.566478
Length: 3.5 miles
Level: very strenuous
This post is about the second day of my 5-days backpacking trip with my friend in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park last August.
I often say jokingly that I sleep better when camping than in my bed at home. This is an exaggeration, of course, and it doesn't take all factors into account (like not having a cat jump on me when I camp) but all and all I do sleep well when out in nature. As exhausted as I was from our first day, however, I didn't sleep well at all on the first night. I wasn't used to falling asleep so early and I took a long time to get sleepy, and I kept dosing off and waking up throughout the night. Eventually there was enough light outside and I couldn't take the tossing and turning anymore so I donned my sweater and shoes and crept out of the tent.
To my surprise my friend followed me shortly out of the tent. Apparently she had been awake for some time and remained quiet so to not wake me up.
Slowly it got brighter and brighter. Suddenly there was a whooshing sound in the air, the first sound other than our own that we heard that morning, and mamma grouse flew into our campsite from across the lake, followed closely by her two chicks. I dashed to the tent, got my camera out, hit the switch and ... nothing. I stared at the info window in disbelief - it said that the battery was exhausted. How come? Not wanting to miss the grouse I changed to my spare battery which was, as expected, completely charged, and started taking photos.
|Sooty Grouse, female|
|Sooty Grouse, chick|
|Early morning reflection in Monarch Lake|
My friend suggested that perhaps I should settle for fewer shots of each plant I saw on the way. Doing that would turn to be a major challenge indeed.
|Early rising White-crowned Sparrow|
Our original plan was to go over Sawtooth Pass and down to Columbine Lake. It is a steep rise of 1500 ft from Monarch Lake to the Sawtooth Pass, and there's no official trail there, just a path made by the numerous people who walked it before us, mostly coming from east to west. The trail splits in many places and going up it is often difficult to figure out which is the right one to go on. I will describe our ascent in more detail further down the post. Here I'll just say that one wrong turn (and lack of map consultation) took us in a slightly different direction and we ended up in a very different place.
|Our second day hike from Monarch Lake to Spring Lake via the Glacier Pass as captured by my GPS|
|Lower Monarch Lake|
|A view southwest down Monarch Canyon|
I tried to not look up for the prospect was daunting.It felt like pushing some unseen glutenous barrier with each step up.
|Intimidating, very. The Sawtooth Pass Trail|
|California Tortoiseshell Butterfly|
|Looking back: Upper Monarch Lake also in view|
|Not barren - wildflowers on the slopes of Sawtooth|
|The line of moisture marked green|
Granite gravel is very coarse. You don't want any of that sneaking into your shoe. It is also the perfect background to camouflage to, like this Phacelia bloom. The bee, however, had no trouble finding it.
My desire to get to the High Sierra begun a few years ago when i watched a short 16 minutes video that was posted at the Yosemite National Park's website. The video featured a botanical expedition to explore the high altitude plants of the Sierra Nevada. I watched this video transfixed. I then showed it to Papa Quail and announced that there is where I wished to go.
It took me some time, but there I was, and I was enjoying every bit of it, too.
|Rockfringe (Epilobium obcordatum)|
The High Sierra plants, therefore, have evolved numerous mechanisms to cope with all these issues and they thrive there, and nowhere else. To see this amazing beauty I had to get that big pack and carry it on my back on a multi-day trek.
|Mountain Pride (Penstemon newberryi)|
There were plenty butterflies fluttering by the blossoms, and some even stood still for a few seconds to be photographed.
The day grew steadily warmer and we treated ourselves to a slightly longer break that included taking off our backpacks and eating a snack. When we were done and ready to go on I felt very light-headed and my legs felt as heavy as lead. I wondered if the altitude had caught up with me at last.
But I didn't have much time to worry about that. There was still much slope to climb and looking up we saw a man descending down the trail. He was moving in a fast pace, almost galloping down. As he approached us he stopped and said bluntly that he wouldn't have traded places with us. He went on to say that we still had ways to go and that the hardest and steepest part was still ahead of us. He also warned us that the trail becomes much more confusing and harder to follow.
I felt my blood starting to boil. Like Marty McFly when called a chicken, I felt near to blowing my top. But I held myself in check, just saying tersely that I preferred to have the hard part of the trek be over and done with as soon as possible. The man nodded to my logic, then bade us farewell and continued galloping downhill.
On hindsight I probably should have thanked that dude because after that encounter I was riding on a high wave of adrenaline all the way up.
We soon got to the part where we had to do some pathfinding. Or more like, deciding which was the right path to take because there were many paths going in various directions. I recalled the ranger saying that the Pass was northwest of the Peak so I bore left, following the most trodden path I saw.
|Higher up the slope|
The peak we saw wasn't Sawtooth Peak but a smaller one north of it. My main mistake was that at no point did I consult my map. Plus, it was convenient to think that the pass would be at the lowest area between the peaks. And so we continued left and ended up at a mountain pass - at Glacier Pass, but not at Sawtooth Pass where we had planned to pass.
|Eastern sierra peaks behind Glacier Pass|
|Empire Mountain viewed from Glacier Pass|
|Cliff Creek Canyon|
I left my friend to rest some more and strolled around to see what I could find. My primary goal was to find the way down on the east side of the ridge because there was no obvious trail leading there. Naturally I was also checking out the local flora.
|Wooly Groundsel (Packera cana)|
The rocks there didn't look like the white granite that made most of the mountain we were walking on, but were dark red and black metamorphic-looking rocks with much finer grain consistency and thin white veins running through them.
There was much less vegetation on that side of the ridge, possibly because there was less soil. The plants that did grow there were tiny.
|Moss under a rock|
|One Seeded Pussypaws (Calyptridium monospermum)|
|Creeping Sibbaldia (Sibbaldia procumbens)|
|Primrose Monkeyflower (Mimulus primuloides)|
|Bud Saxifrage, (Micranthes bryophora)|
|Lemmon's Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja lemmonii)|
It is hard for me to describe the color and vibrance of that little meadow east of Glacier Pass. My photos certainly don't do it justice. I would say simply that I wouldn't have minded staying there more. That I was sorry to leave it and move on down to the lake's basin.
|Nuttall Sandwort (Minuartia nuttallii)|
A quick movement ahead caught my eye. It was a bird on a rock, not too close. A mountain bluebird! I took a couple of photographs but as I moved down the trail the bird flew away.
|Mountain Bluebird, female|
|Alpine Shootingstar (Primula tetrandra)|
|Spring Lake basin|
|Foxtail Pines (Pinus balfouriana) over Spring Lake|
|The cascading creek between Cyclamen Lake and Spring Lake|
|Western Labrador Tea (Rhododendron columbianum) by Spring Lake|
We exchanged greetings with the couple. They told us that they had come up Cliff Creek and tried going over Black Rock Pass but saw that they wouldn't make it over before darkness so they scrambled over here to Spring Lake for the night and would continue across the pass on the morrow.
I dropped my backpack and for the first time that day I pulled out my map.
The man pointed at where we were. It was only then that I'd realized we had taken the wrong turn going up Sawtooth Pass Trail, so we ended up going over Glacier Pass. The lake we were standing by its shore wasn't Columbine Lake, but Spring Lake. And Spring Lake wasn't near any established trail that was marked on the map.
There were a few options. The first, to get on with our original course and try to make it to Columbine Lake still was out of the question - it would have required adding to the trek one more day, which we didn't have. To go on down the creek like I thought of doing before didn't sound so good either - now we knew there wasn't any trail there and we may not cover much distance anyway. So both of us agreed on staying the night at Spring Lake. It was a beautiful place, and would be much better to stay at than somewhere along the way to someplace else. Besides, at that time we've both had had enough walking and were ready to call it a day.
We continued circumventing the lake until we found a lovely spot off the northeast shore and pitched our tent on a rock ledge that overlooked the lake. Since we settled early enough we had a bit of time to explore, just enough to know that there would be much more to see in that place on the morrow.
|Elephant Head Lousewort (Pedicularis groenlandica) near Spring Lake|
|Evening at Spring Lake|
|Sunset at Spring Lake|
The last light slowly faded, painting the granite peaks with pale orange, and finally departing softly, as if with a goodnight kiss.
A link to the post about the third day of this trip.